After trading José Berríos and JA Happ last season and losing Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda to Tommy John surgery and free agency, respectively, the Twins’ rotation was in serious need of a facelift. Instead of plunging into the pre-lockdown free agent frenzy in November, the Twins stayed on the periphery, only signing Dylan Bundy to a one-year rebound contract after his ugly season for the Angels. With Byron Buxton newly signed to a long-term extension, the Twins have signaled their intention to compete for the AL Central crown in 2022. But even with Bundy added to their staff, their starting rotation looks extremely thin.

Under president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine, Minnesota has been notoriously risk averse when it comes to committing to pitchers for any significant amount of time. It was probably long to assume the Twins would be among the top name contenders in a strong free agent starting pitching class and once the lockdown is lifted, it looks like it will be difficult to add another arm to their rotation. . . Of the 16 starters ranked in our top 50 free agents, all but six have already signed with a new team. That doesn’t leave the Twins many options when it comes to outside help.

Instead of bringing in another quality arm from outside the organization, I suspect the Twins are hoping some of their young starters take a meaningful step forward in 2022. Bailey Ober, Joe Ryan and Randy Dobnak have less than 50 career starts between them but each will likely play an important role this year. Additionally, top pitching prospects Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran could make their major league debuts during the season. It may not be an inspiring group of names, but one of these young pitchers has potential that could provide advantages for Minnesota.

Of that group of inexperienced starters that populate the Twins’ projected rotation, Ober has compiled the most innings in 2021. He made his major league debut in mid-May and ended up pitching 92.1 innings with an ERA. of 4.19 and a FIP of 4.56 which was just one step. behind. Even more impressive was his 5.05 strikeout ratio, 13th highest in the majors among starters who pitched at least 90 innings. These excellent peripherals formed the basis of his xFIP 4.01, only his extremely high home run rate holding him back.

A 12th-round pick in the 2017 draft, Ober compiled a 31.9 percent strikeout rate during his minor league career. He associated this deadly ability with a walk rate of 3.4%; surprisingly, his walk totals have never exceeded double digits in any of his minor league saves. With such phenomenal results, you might expect Ober to rank highly on the Twins prospect lists, but he’s never topped 22nd on the 2021 list with a 40 FV. His command was an obvious strength, but his fastball was consistently below 90 mph in the minors. There was considerable dissonance between his reconnaissance reports and the results he presented.

During the 2020 season, Ober was not invited to the alternate site but worked on his own to smooth his mechanics. Upon reaching the majors in May 2021, his fastball was averaging 92.3 mph, a big boost in speed. The raw speed he showed in the majors was a significant improvement over what he showed in the minors, but 92 mph isn’t exactly head-turning. Luckily, his gigantic 6-foot-9 frame allows him to impart a ton of extra effective speed on his throws. Only six other launchers had a release extension higher than Ober’s 7.3 inches. This elite extension helped him add over 2 mph to his radiator, the biggest difference between raw speed and effective speed of any fastball thrown at least 100 times in 2021.

With a heater playing due to his extension and unusual delivery, he leaned quite heavily on this ground during his rookie season. His excellent command allowed him to consistently locate his fastball in the area. The combination of effective speed and location led to a 24.8% odor rate, slightly above the league average for four-seams. Even though hitters often struggled to make contact with the pitch, they did tremendous damage against it when they put it in play. Throwing hard stuff into the zone has its downsides if the hitters are able to connect to these pitches. Nearly 60% of the balls in play on Ober’s fastball were fly balls or line drives and he allowed an expected wOBA of .578 on those elevated batted balls.

Ober’s repertoire also includes slider, shifter and curveball. Of these three secondary throws, the two breaking balls are the most interesting. In addition to his fastball, those three pitches each had swinging double-digit hit rates, forming a deep arsenal to give Ober plenty of options to attack hitters. Additionally, he completely redesigned his slider mid-season. In an effort to differentiate his slider from his curveball a bit more, he tinkered with a new slider handle and began implementing it in mid-August. He detailed his process in an interview with David Laurila in September:

I started throwing a new slider [in early-to-mid-August]. I wanted something a little harder. It was around 78-80 [mph] and I wanted to give hitters something different. It was also kind of a mix with my curve ball. Basically the idea was something with a bigger speed difference between my curveball and my slider.

Before I had it a little deeper in my hand and there was a lot more horizontal movement on it. It wasn’t as deep as my new one. My new one is harder [82-84] and has a bit more depth, and it’s not so horizontal anymore.

Here’s how different its two sliders were in practice. This slider was launched in mid-July:

And here is his revised slider from a game in mid-August:

These are completely different terrains. Ober always used them both in the same way, placing them on the outside edge against right-handed hitters to generate swings and misses. Here’s what the physical characteristics and results of the two pitches looked like:

Bailey Ober, slider features

Period Use Speed V-Move H-movement Turnover rate Puff% xwOBAcon
Before 8/11 16.0% 79.7 3.1 11.5 2149 27.9% 0.416
After 8/11 22.0% 83.3 -0.4 5.4 2169 27.0% 0.340

Despite the drastic changes to the shape of the terrain, its results were almost the same as with the slower loop cursor. But with his harder slider established in his repertoire, his curveball suddenly became much more effective. From August 11 to the end of the season, Ober’s curveball posted a 45.5% odor rate, a 26.5 point improvement from the 19% odor rate he had. raced during the first half of the season. Differentiating the two pitches has really helped him turn his breaking balls into two distinct weapons that should give batters adjustments at home plate.

The path to a breakout season for Ober seems pretty clear. He has three fields that produce excellent results and he masters all his arsenal perfectly. His fastball is decent, especially with his effective speed helping him play, but he could probably handle throwing it a little less in favor of his two breaking balls. Hitting the strike zone with his heater is good strategy in the minor leagues, but he needs to learn how to better incorporate his two breaking balls into his ground mix to avoid allowing such hard contact with his high fastballs. I didn’t even mention his switch, which was ranked as his best secondary offer as a prospect. With such a deep repertoire, Ober has many avenues to follow to continue his promising debut.